Tag Archives: author choices

Evolved or spun? Meet my shorts. Born Free: news, views and free books … #giveaway #sffbooks

First of all, thanks to everyone who responded – in the comments or by email – to my rant last week. My folks are a lot better, which is heartening, and their new boiler is fitted. Things are calm for the moment, although I’ll probably have to try and get them to a funeral some time in the next couple of weeks. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I also did reasonably well at the Bury Christmas Fayre this year, in fact I ran out of copies of Few Are Chosen, which was a good predicament to be in but also a bit annoying. I did £470 over three days, £12 more than I did on my best year, in two, but a full £170 more than last year – although they hadn’t put me next to a stall selling brand new, best selling kids and teen books for £1 a pop this year, which was a relief.

There has been more time to reflect over my life and career this week, to, and I am feeling on a slightly more even keel. I have stepped down as editor of the parish mag, freeing up a minimum of seven hours a month and after Roughseas’ question in response to my last post, I started a short story to explain exactly how Betsy Coed did end up running the Bordello on Turnadot Street. Amazingly, it’s moving along nicely and I now have a princely 4009 words in the bag – only 16,000 to go then. Not so bad; if I keep up progress at this rate, it’ll be done in 4 weeks. It won’t, of course, but I will be done a lot quicker than I usually am and might even manage to squidge a second in before the summer holidays begin.

At the same time, the longer stuff has started moving again, so I’ve written a couple of thousand words of the work in progress, too – which is the first in a series and not set in K’Barth. However, I have made the usual discovery, a third in, that what I’m really writing is book two. So I’ve had to take stock a bit, go back and start book 1.

Isn’t it bizarre? Nothing has changed, I’m still trying to write a mix of full length novels and, in an ideal world, some shorter stories to go with. However, instead of seeing it like that, I’ve simply switched priorities, put the short stories as the priority and the novels on the ‘in an ideal world’ back burner, swapped a difficult goal for an easy one. The result? Suddenly I’ve made more progress on both in a week than I have in the preceding two months! So it just goes to show how important it is to look at things in the right way – or perhaps, that I’m so credulous that I can even do spin and puff on myself! Or possibly CBT.

Anyway, a propos of the shorts, I’d really appreciate your help with something. If you have a burning question about K’Barth, the back story to the series, the back story to the characters, anything characters do ‘off stage’ over the story line of the series, can you let me know what it is in the comments? I will then answer it, using the medium of the short story, because a few questions will really help to get this kickstarted.

Second thing, I am taking part in a giveaway this month. A group of science fiction and fantasy authors have got together and we are all giving our books away for free. You don’t have to sign up to anyone’s mailing list or jump through any hoops, AND you don’t have to be tied to one particular book retailer. You can go to the page for your favourite retailer and download the books that interest you.

To find out more, just click on this smashing graphic, here.

pattyjansenpromodec16

 

 

 

 

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Filed under About My Writing, Author Updates, General Wittering

My Permafree Experience … #bookmarketing #nicholasrossis

This week, I have mostly been doing a guest appearance on Nicholas Rossis’ excellent blog. He invited me to write about why I made Few Are Chosen free and why, for me, that has been a good move. If you’re into that sort of thing and want to know more, you can find the post here:

http://nicholasrossis.me/2016/05/17/my-permafree-experience-guest-post-by-m-t-mcguire/

 

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A question of perception

It’s another ‘I’m an idiot, learn from me’ post today. It’s also long. Apologies for that but there’s rather a lot to say.

Recently I’ve been trying to get the initial ideas and machinery in place to launch a new book. There are several places where I’m stuck, mostly the same, old same old: you know, stuff like actually managing to write a blurb that makes it sound appealing or coming up with a viable title. There is also the aspect of things I might unknowingly stuff up.

OK, so I try to act with professional integrity. This is the internet. Whatever I do I will offend someone but I try avoid any dishonourable, shabby, dishonest or generally reprehensible behaviour if at all possible. I try to love my internetty neighbour the way I’d like to be loved myself.

However, I’m a writer and a flawed human being. I frequently offend people without even realising. Indeed, if life was a game I suspect unwitting offence would be my Special Attribute. A couple of things have happened, recently, that have made me very aware of this and concentrated my attention on the matter of how hard it is to achieve a good reputation on the internet, how difficult it is not to cause offence, however well meaning your actions may actually be. And how difficult it can be to gauge how others will react to your actions when the only guide you have is to imagine how it would feel to be on the receiving end.

It’s not just about trying to act with decency and integrity at all times. It’s about whether people think think you are. A lot of that is about what folks believe your intentions are. I think that no matter how genuine you wish to be, how honest you think you are being, or how principled you aim to make your approach, if you are selling anything, however obliquely, there are certain quarters of the internet where any attempt to connect on your part will be considered a hypocritical attempt to befriend people in order to sell them something. So far with me, it’s kind of been the other way round. But a couple of things have really surprised me, recently. Stupid things I’ve done without realising they were stupid.

On the up side, since I’ve made these monumental fuck ups, it means that by describing them to you at length I can ensure that you don’t have to. Here’s what I’ve learned from this series of unfortunate events…

The dreadful truth about titles.

I’ll fess up. I got in a bit of a muddle publishing my last two books. The main problem was that when I finished the third book in the K’Barthan Trilogy (as it was then called) I discovered it was a snadge over 300,000 words long. What to do? If I produced a paperback then, by the time I’d factored in the kind of discount that would pay the middle men (60%) I would have a book that cost about £25. So there’s book 1 at £9.99, book 2 at £11.99 and book 3 at £24.99. With books 1 and 2 ending on cliff hangers it does rather look as if I’m holding readers to ransom to find out what happens. Luckily there was a point where I could split it. So I did. But that cost more. Another £800 or so to be precise and another £90 plus 20% sales tax to upload it to the print on demand distributor I use.

With money tight, the question raised it’s head of spending a further £90 plus tax per book to change the word ‘Trilogy’ on the cover and front pages of the first two, to ‘Series’ in print. Also, what little traction the series had was as the K’Barthan Trilogy. I asked folks, took advice and tried to imagine how I would feel if a trilogy I was following had four books. The folks I asked reckoned a 4 book trilogy was not unusual and that no-one would mind. Since I’ve read the Hitch Hiker’s ‘trilogy’ and was delighted when it kept growing, rather than upset, I saved the £180 and went for the 4 book trilogy.

How wrong I was.

A couple of months ago the third book got a blistering one star review, slamming me for writing a fourth instalment. I paraphrase but the gist was like this:

“I know your game,” it basically said. “You’re just going to write book after book and never end the story, because you’re just a bastard writer! And all you bastard writers ever want to do is rip readers off and make us pay and pay so you can buy another set of gold plated wheels for your Mercedes Benz. Well I’m not reading any more of your crap you… charlatan!”

Fair enough, this case, someone has clearly watched too many episodes of ‘Lost’, and that £50 a month I earn from my writing may well look like the gold-plated-alloy-purchasing big time to some folks, but I was completely thrown. First that they were upset, second by the enormous gap between their perception of my personality and the real one.

OK, we all know the golden rule is DO NOT ENGAGE. NEVER reply to things like that.

I broke it.

I commented on the review apologising for causing offence, explaining that it wasn’t intended, that the story ends at the conclusion of the fourth book (in case anyone else reading that review wondered) and then I offered to send it to them for free so they could find out what happened. They never replied. I went and changed the title from ‘trilogy’ to ‘series’ in all the ebook files and on all the listings on every retail site I sell through – it already said it in the product desription. Naturally the retailers all accepted my chages except for Amazon who asserted that if it said ‘trilogy’ on the book cover (even if it’s too small to read) it will be called ‘trilogy’ until I pay the designers to change the j-peg and upload the new one.

I chalked it up as something to watch and a change to do when I brief the designers about my next book.

During last year, I entered both books for the excellent Wishing Shelf Book Awards. When the feedback came through I was very surprised to discover that readers there, too, had commented negatively about my writing a ‘trilogy’ of four books.

Clearly, something that hadn’t registered with me was really pissing other people off. So what have I learned from this litany of amateurism?

  1. Give yourself options.
    My four book ‘trilogy’ has royally ticked off a whole bunch of people. Folks I will never get back. Folks who will consider me a wanker forever and spread their opinions near and far. But the problem would never have existed if I’d had the wit to call it the K’Barthan Series from the get go. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, so learn from mine: if you’re writing a trilogy then, in the name of the almighty don’t call it that. Call it a series unless it’s actually finished, has three books the same length, and you are about to publish the first one.
  2. Give yourself some slack.
    Accept there are some things you can cover with research and some things that only experience will show you but.
  3. When experience does kick you in the teeth, learn from it.
  4. If you can repair the damage, do it as soon as you can but think it through, don’t hurry it or you may just make things worse.
    OK, so I can’t afford to get rid of the bloody ‘trilogy’ moniker until the entire series is edited at the end of November. The covers, I can, and will, change sooner. For now I just have to accept that I’ve fucked up, chalk it up to experience and learn from what I have done.

The grim truth about interacting on the internet.

The second smack in the face from reality came this week.

Recently, I’ve had a facebook ad running which offers the first two books in the K’Barthan Series to anyone who joins my mailing list. I’d heard that a good way to identify a market of people to show your ad to is to choose an audience who like books by an author similar to you. It then suggests you make reference to the author you, and they, know and love and suggest that if they like that stuff they might like yours. I’m always a bit leery about this, I mean, all those reviews saying I write like Adams are just setting folks up for disappointment because I don’t. But I thought it might work with a humorous bent if I aimed it at Pratchett readers.

After a bit of tweaking and watching and tweaking I ended up with an audience who liked Terry Pratchett books and an ad which referenced CMOT Dibbler.

OK, in my defence here, I wrote the copy while Sir Terry was still around but this is what it said:

“If you like funny British science fiction and fantasy why not check out this freebie: The K’Barthan Series stands complete at four books and I’d like to give you two of them. Yes, this all sounds a bit CMOT Dibbler school of marketing but I’m hoping you’ll find a lot more quality literary meat in these books than there is REAL meat in CMOT Dibbler’s sausages.

All you have to do is tell me where to send them – the books, obviously, real sausages will not be involved.”

Then there was this picture and the title and caption below.

FACTWSfacebookAd

“I’M LITERALLY cutting my own throat here.

If you love a bargain, help yourself to two award winning funny sci-fi fantasy books, Few Are Chosen and The Wrong stuff, parts 1 and 2 of the best selling K’Barthan Series are usually £4 but they’re free for a limited time. To grab yours click here.”

To start with, I got sign ups, shares and a couple of joky quotes about the quality of the meat – is it named? Yes it’s called Bob. In other words, exactly what I expected. Then a few days ago, from New Zealand, this:

Pep A: Ripping off a Terry Pratchett character to sell your book? Poor form?
Pep B: Poor form? Fucking shameful.

And I looked at it and I thought… what happened there? And then the ad got this comment:

Pep C: Well. He’s dead now.

And the penny dropped.

Yes M T you daft, fucking moron! He died. And so suddenly this ad is not joking about characters we know and love from a favourite author. It’s trampling over people’s memories of a great man and maligning the dead. Events can cause changes in perception. And I completely missed that. So I’ve removed the ad. Because although it was working really well I didn’t think of that, and while, personally, I think it’s a bit weird to be offended, I do absolutely get why someone might be.

Have I replied or apologised? Well… no, because of another particularly important thing that I’ve learned about the internet, so that you don’t have to is that it’s bat shit crazy, and also:

  1. The international nature of the internet is a two edged sword…
    Yes, you can talk to the entire globe. Unfortunately, not all of it thinks the way you do. That means you can and will offend thousands of people effortlessly and unwittingly at the touch of a button: not just people in Britain but folks all over the world.Seriously though, I’m not American, from the RSA, Kenya or Zimbabwe. I’m not Australian, or a Kiwi, or Tasmanian or from India, Pakistan or South East Asia. I’m not from Holland, Germany, France, Russia or any of the myriad other places where people speak English and read my books, in English. I lack the instinctive grasp of other cultures that will enable me to see the point when funny becomes offensive to them if it doesn’t to someone British. But because I’m speaking English and they speak English too, THEY EXPECT ME TO.
  2. The internet contains a huge gap in perception.
    The aforementioned gulf between the spirit in which I act and interact on line, who I think I am, and what others perceive me to be. Frankly, it’s enormous. 90% of communication is non verbal and boy does it show on t’interweb – mainly through the medium of folks becoming very suspicious of one another. And what that equates to, if you’re selling anything, anywhere on line, is an assumption that nothing you do is genuine. That everything is crafted, honed and perfected with your eye on the next sale.So while you’re trying to just be, write a blog, do stuff, keep people informed, have a presence that’s just yourself: a benign and friendly presence, there are folks out there who will dismiss it as the work of a rapacious scammer who sees everyone as a potential victim (including them, unless they’re ‘careful’ a.k.a. prickly, aggressive and ready to take offence at the drop of a hat).
  3. 3. People are going to drop their weird shit onto you.
    There’s a saying, ‘you can please some of the people some of the time but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.’ I understand this but it seems that in today’s world, if you do anything that might put your name into the public domain, like paint, write, make music, act etc you are expected to please everyone, all of the time. Worse, if you don’t, no quarter will be given.Genuine mistakes, or simple errors of of judgement, far from being forgiven, are seen as an act of cynical aggression towards your innocent audience. A lot of people out there don’t really like themselves. They think they’re cynical, cold hearted conniving little shits, and guess what? Because they believe that about themselves they’re going to believe it about you too.
  4. Give them some slack. Try to stay positive and accept that sometimes you will offend others and it can’t always be helped.
    Long ago, I decided not to worry about the nature of the net. I am who I am and it’s hard to be anyone else. I know I will make mistakes and all I can do is try not to. It’s worth making peace with yourself and accepting that sometimes, no matter how benign you want to be and how hard you try to avoid hurting people, you will cause offence. Sometimes all you can do is apologise, chalk it up to experience, learn from it and move on. Sometimes our attempts to interact with people we don’t actually know personally, can be interpreted, by some as evidence that we’re out to get them in some way. It doesn’t matter how much cobblers that is, they’ve been burned by others and but there’s no way we will ever convince folks like that of our good intentions. There’s no point even trying. Indeed, the only thing you can do about them is hope to heaven that they never, ever find you.

So what can we do? How can writers or artists or anyone creative who interacts regularly on the internet behave ‘well’ without becoming too slick, too spun and anodyne?

Perhaps we can’t. Or perhaps all we can do is our level, genuine best to avoid saying anything that would offend us if you were on the receiving end. Do unto others and all that.

If you’re laid back and you write humour which, by its nature, is subversive you will undoubtedly prick the bubble of the pompous at some stage. But you may also stuff up and the way I have though sheer naivety, lack of foresight or plain ignorance and unwittingly offend many, many folks – good decent people who you don’t want to upset. When you do, I guess the only course is to chalk it up to experience – apologise if appropriate/possible and move on.

Few people do things deliberately to offend, whatever many internet users think. Most of us offend because we’re human, and flawed; and that’s natural. If we never cocked it up we’d be actual God. Because perfect is impossible unless you’re Allah, right?

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What am I doing here?

Do you ever have the feeling you’ve slipped into a different version of the universe by mistake? Sometime I feel as if I’m living another MTM’s life where the basic essentials are the same but some of the bits around the edges are… not what I thought. I can’t quite explain this but it’s usually at times when I look at the zeitgeist around me and then at what I do and think… ‘ah.’

This cropped up in two respects this week. First, because as a fairly avid reader of Chuck Wendig’s blog (you really should check it out) I read his post about 10 books that had stayed with him and took up his invitation, at the end, to list the ten books that stayed with me. You can check out the post and read everyone’s comments (including  mine) here. What interested me was that the books that had stayed with people were all pretty heavyweight, barring one person, who, like I did, listed Green Eggs and Ham. But basically, the mood is academic. And serious. And then I turn up.

Here are ten of the books that have had the biggest effect on me:

THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, CS Lewis. My parents read all the Narnia books to me and my brother as kids. I thought all books were like that. I didn’t realise there was a special pariah genre for them all.

FAIR STOOD THE WIND FOR FRANCE H E Bates. H E Bates can describe a summers day and just put you right there. This is just a wonderfully uplifting story and I loved it.

THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST Frederick Mayerat. Another fantastic book which my parents read to me as a kid. It has people with big hats and swords in it. What more could you want?

A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE, Stanley Weyman. More hats and swords, in France this time.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS Alexander Dumas. Cracking historical novel. More Swords and big hats, with the odd heaving bosom thrown in for good measure.

THE ASTERIX BOOKS by Goschinny and Uderzo. Yes. All of them. I first read them when I was about five. After that, each year I grew I got more of the jokes. Multi-layered masterful humour. And silly names.

THE HITCH HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY Douglas Adams. Because that’s how you do brainy comedy.

GREEN EGGS AND HAM Dr Seuss. The world of Dr Seuss – particularly Tweetle beetles from Fox in Sox has me completely hooked. That’s where my own fantasy world building started. With the weirder offerings of Dr Deuss. But I like green eggs and ham best.

WYRD SISTERS and THE NIGHT WATCH by Terry Pratchett. Because Terry writes the most fantastic stuff and I love it.

ABOUT A BOY Nick Hornby. Poignant, intelligent and laugh out loud funny.

A SPOT OF BOTHER, Mark Haddon. Ditto.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Bill Bryson. Bryson makes a history funny. It’s densely written. You can’t read too much at a time because it’s the literary equivalent of an enormous cream cake. Little and often is the way to read this. But it is absolutely fab. Actually, anything Bryson writes is a scream.

Looking at it now, I missed out, PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING BY GRAHAM GREENE (whose name I can’t remember how to spell) and PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING BY OSCAR WILDE. If I could write one piece of work like The Importance of Being Earnest I would consider my work as an author done.

Looking at my list compared to the books on the others it struck me how very out of step with the popular zeitgeist I am. Lots very serious books by people like Melville, Poe, Atwood, Hosseni… A fair bit of GRRM, CS Lewis, Herbert and King. Nobody mentioned Pratchett as far as I recall although I think someone mentioned Douglas Adams.

Find a forum about books and the authors everyone bangs on about seem to be the likes of Steinback, Hemingway, Poe, King, Herbert, Melville, Hemingway, GRRM….  American authors. Always American. No-one mentions HE Bates, no-one mentions Greene. Perhaps, most Americans – and we have to face it, the English speaking internet has a very strong US bias even though there are more of us, from other nations, than them – haven’t heard of Bates or Greene, or other greats like George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde or Sir John Betjamin, just as I haven’t read Steinback or Melville (yet). But going back to the blog post, the onus of that set of comments does seem to be on cutting edge, horror or high brow.

It made me realise how inept I am at trying to be edgy.

It also highlighted the career decision that lies ahead of me now; heart or head. Let me explain. I started out with a budget that would cover six books. But due to the requirement to edit K’Barthan 1 again and again and the need for a proof edit after the copy edit I’ve blown that budget on four books. I thought six was a good buffer but to be honest I expected to earn enough to produce a low budget book once I’d published two or three. I’ve published four and that may yet happen. It may but it’s not looking too hopeful.

So what now?

The K’Barthan Series was completely self indulgent. I wrote exactly what I wanted to write, and I wrote it with a passion. In an ideal world that’s what I’ll do. But I’m beginning to realise that K’Barth is quite… out there. But… in the wrong way. It’s up front but not edgy enough, it’s weird but not scary enough. It’s not normal. It’s a book syndrome. It’s a bit socially lumpy.

Mwahahahahargh! I’ve produced the literary equivalent of myself!

MTMcGuirePhoto

FACCover 300dpiFront

Then I swing back the other way and convince myself it’s fine. Comfort myself with stories of people like Anne Magill, who studied fine art at Liverpool and then went to London (St Martin’s) where she met solid resistance from her tutors to her style. She stayed true to it, though, and is now a hugely successful painter selling works to people like Russell Crowe.

Nice.

She says (Anne Magill, I mean):

“I ended up going into commercial design because figurative traditional work was frowned upon,” but, she added, “If I’m damned I’m damned. I can only do what’s in my head.”

She followed her heart and now she’s doing OK.

Then there’s Kate Bush. Look at the pop scene in the late 1970s and early 80s. You’ve got punk, two tone, mods doing the usual do and then the odd M.O.R. hangover from the disco era. Where in the name of all that’s holy to you put our Kate Bush among all that? Her output is completely crazy, it’s quirky, her voice is weird, her choices of subject for her songs is esoteric, at best, and at worst barking loola. But people liked it anyway because it’s so honest and genuine, oh and it’s also good.

That’s what I want. For my stuff to be honest and genuine and good. And for me to be right in believing.

But am I? Or am I just being a self-indulgent, jumped-up twat? Someone called me a hack in a review the other day. It was oblique, as in ‘hack habits’ but it smarted. A lot. And the worst thing. It’s probably true.

When I wrote the K’Barthan Series, I wanted to show myself and all the naysayers that I can write like this and succeed. I reasoned that, if I liked it, other people would. And some do. And I am beyond grateful to each and every one of you who has bought it, read it, reviewed it. But it is a hard sell. And I’m realising that all the publishing people who said the names were stupid, the plot too involved, the level of intellect I assumed for my readers too high… I’m realising that unfortunately, if I want to make enough money to pay for another book, they might be right.

That’s probably why the big self publishing sites like Big Al’s Books and Pals and Bookbub won’t touch Few Are Chosen. Because when it comes down to it, even in self published author land, the big fish want the same commercial criteria that publishers want. And it’s all very well trying to prove something actually does work, but for that to happen, readers have to know it’s there. And it’s almost impossible to get it in front of them. Except off line, in the real world, where you need stock that costs money I don’t have. It’s a bit chicken and egg to be honest.

So the nub of it all is that I’m suffering a bit of a conundrum as to what I should write next.

Because I want to write stuff that is honest and true, that is me on paper, which means more stuff like the K’Barthan Series. But if I’m going to write more K’Barthan style madness, I need to do something alongside that sells, to fund it. Or something that will, at least, be mainstream enough for the big indie sites, with thousands of followers, to risk actually putting it in front of them. That’s tricky, because I wouldn’t know what commercial was if it stood up and smacked me in the face with a haddock. Universal appeal, yeh, I can do that, but nobody wants that, it makes selling the books too difficult. They want the next big thing. Before it happens. They want stuff that sells. And I don’t know what that is.

Oh dear.

So it’s back to the brick wall. That’s right, the one I was hoping I could sidestep by self publishing my books and proving to the world… yada, yada, yada.

Because my stuff didn’t fit with publishers, but it doesn’t fit in with the indie gatekeepers either – except for Awesome Indies, who I, therefore, think are awesome.

So here’s my three step plan:

STEP 1: Find out what, exactly, is ‘wrong’ with the K’Barthan Series, somehow. I.E. find out why a publisher would say ‘no’ so I can avoid making the same mistakes in the next book.

STEP 2: Applying what I’ve learned, I need to write the most commercial novel of which I am capable and use it to fund any subsequent pieces of unmarketable whimsy.

STEP 3: Stick £10 a month away in my building society account. For all my hand-to-mouthness (yes I know, I spent everything I had on a car. It’s definitely my fault) I won’t notice it’s gone. I have discalculia, for heaven’s sake! And in a year’s time, when I’ve written my next book, there might be enough cash to publish it at the usual loss and eventually there might be so many books that the sales income they generate can fund another one, anyway.

STEP 4: Write some shorts and experiment with putting 20,000 novellas into things like KDP Select on a rolling basis, which, hopefully, will introduce my work to a whole new bunch of readers who have no access to it now, and who will buy all my other books (and then music will play and there’ll be smeary shots of me dancing, crying with joy, through falling rose petals-) Sorry. Got a bit carried away there.

Held in reserve, steps 5 and 6.

STEP 5: Find a publisher who will make me rewrite and rewrite and rewrite my next piece of unmarketable whimsy until, together, we turn it into something marketable. This is a hugely unappealing prospect because I can’t imagine a publisher thinking any differently about my books from the agents and the big hitter review sites. Which means thousands of pounds on postage and years and years of being told, politely, to fuck off and trying to put a positive spin on it. But I might manage it, and if I do, it will open many closed doors, and I’ll learn a huge amount.

STEP 6: Crowd fund the next book? Eeesh. I guess there’s Unbound, but do I have the time or charisma to undertake the social media activity required to drum up… well any votes? Let alone enough for them to publish a book.

Which brings me back round in a circle to the question ‘how do I make my work commercially viable?’ The biggest problem I face lies my answer to that question: ‘I like it the way it is.’

So that’s the nub of it. Do I attempt to be the Kate Bush of writing and try to make it on my own? Only with rather less talent and no help in the offing from any literary equivalent of David Gilmour. Do I keep on struggling and hope that somehow, one day, my work stands up? That I can find a way to walk the line between being true to myself and bang on the money. Or do I try to sing something more mainstream, in a slightly less squeaky voice, about a bog standard subject to see if the Polydors of the writing world will accept it?

Very tricky question. And one to which, right now, I have no answer.

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What makes a good bad guy?

Recently, as my thoughts turn to planning a new book, I’ve been wondering what makes a good baddie? If you see what I mean.

In my current w.i.p. the baddie is a politician, and I suspect, he will be not so much evil as morally bankrupt. To make things right, our hero will have to manipulate things so that the politician, in getting what he wants, will unwittingly deliver justice for the goodies of the book. In so far as there are any. A bit more like real life then, even if it’s set in space.

But I do want my villain to be bad. And while you can fiddle with the circumstances and the dynamics; on their own, they don’t always make the actual being evil. So I’m trying to work out if I want my latest bad guy to be greedy and selfish and incidentally evil or whether I want to go for a full on supervillian: a being who is intelligent, pointy-brained, and who plans (and revels in) his malevolence. The first is more real, the second an absolute gas to write and great fun to hate.

To get my head around concepts and ideas of ‘evil’ versus ‘bad’ or just ‘greedy’ I have turned to current affairs. I find current affairs intensely distressing if I look them directly in the face. Even so, they seem to be even worse than usual right now. There’s nothing like a bit of economic trouble to bring out the hatred in all of us it seems.

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Here we are in a modern and supposedly enlightened world and the various peoples of The Book are still trying to kill one another with gusto – and anything else that comes to hand.

We have an organisation of people pretending to be Muslims who believe half the population is shameful and valueless. It’s better to be a goat than a woman under the Taliban. After all, even their livestock can roam freely to find food. But if the male folk in a woman’s family die, the honourable thing for her to do is stay at home and starve to death rather than go out into the world unchaperoned to buy supplies. Yes that’s how much a woman is worth to them. Nothing. Because having kids and periods makes us unclean – Lord above if ever there was a bit of biblical health and safety advice that went big time wrong it’s that bit – oh and we don’t have a cock to think with, which makes us bad. And heaven help us, the Taliban seem quite moderate compared to ISIL, the Islamic State.

And then you get Israel which has had it’s foot on Palestine’s neck for years and just. Won’t. Lift. Off.  I wouldn’t pretend to be able to fathom Middle Eastern politics, there is no knowing Who Started It because the fighting there began at the dawn of time. I’ve read enough of the The Book – Old Testament/Torah/Koran – to appreciate that. But historically, countries like Britain, America and Russia have exacerbated the problems in an already volatile area for their own gain; fanning the flames of enmity, promising everyone what they wanted and delivering it to no-one: for years. And in return we get ISIL, the Islamic State. I guess it kind of serves us right.

Then… enter the ‘Christian Right’ and holy smoke, there’s an oxymoron if ever there was one – who vilify women and single mothers, not to mention the poor. They justify the hatred-filled crap they spew as the word of God when all it’s about is power and more money for them. I thought god was supposed to be a loving father – you know, ‘love they neighbour as thyself’ and all that – not a psychopathic, vengeful shit-head. Maybe I’m wrong. It would be funny if there wasn’t an actual, realistic chance of these people gaining power in America, a country which looks, from the outside, as if the political choice is between rabidly conservative and a few steps to the right of Atilla the Hun.

And when I turn on the news and see the latest venom-filled cleric screaming spittle-flecked hatred in the name of whichever version of God they purport to believe in, I confess I feel contempt. Contempt for someone who uses their intelligence, or presence, or social standing to persuade others to maltreat people in the name of a supposedly loving god. And contempt for the brainwashed sheep who follow them.

Which is where it all starts, of course.

The minute we stop seeing extremists as human beings, we become like them. Because that’s what they’re doing to us. That’s how they can justify massacring whole towns, that’s how they can justify institutional peadophelia – selling 12 year old girls into sexual slavery because they dare to get an education: learn to read, learn to think, is peadophelia in my book. No wonder extremism is so attractive to every tinpot fuckwit with a Kalishnikov. What better excuse for violence, bullying and sexual depravity than ‘god told me to do it’? Even if it’s patently, bollocks. I really feel for the world’s quiet, moderate people of faith, who have to put up with people thinking that nutters like the Islamic State and the Christian ‘Right’ represent religion.

What the angry rationalists fail to realise is that using religion to manipulate people is a completely different from having an actual faith. I suppose that’s what a lot of the K’Barthan Series is about: that just because the extremists are in power, it doesn’t mean everyone is one. Even so, it seems that nothing is more guaranteed to make you despise and kill your neighbour than a jolly good argument as to whose philosophy you should employ to go about loving him. Weird isn’t it?

You know, I wanted to make my villain female in this next book – think Servalan out of Blake’s 7 – but, in light of the state of world affairs, I really don’t think I can. There’s enough hatred directed at us women without my making one of us a love-to-hate baddie. The saddest thing is that every time I make stuff up, on the grounds that it’s chillingly evil, I find someone, somewhere, is already doing it.

Servalan: Scary baddie from Blake’s 7 Image: from http://jasonnahrung.wordpress.com

Stepping off the soap box and dragging this back to the point, apart from depressing me profoundly what does the state of world affairs have to do with writing credible bad guys?

In a nutshell, because what current affairs show us is that contempt is the key. A good look at history is an excellent place to start if you want to analyse the subtleties of evil. All you need to do then is give your baddie a healthy dose of idealism at the expense of any practical consideration whatsoever. He doesn’t have to be all-other-beings-are-inferior-my-pawns-to-be-used-and-discarded, supervillain bad. All he has to do is believe, passionately that the ends justifies the means and forget that the populations of the nations he is playing with are actual real humans. There are many faces of evil and often one begets another. So you can have some seriously bad karma starting off with deeds done with good intent.

Hmm… for all his supercilious air I think I prefer the supervillain like Lord Vernon. At least he’s honest.

So, what are your thoughts folks? Who’s the baddest of the bad? Love-to-hate superbaddie or vainglorious politician. More to the point, which one do you most like to see in books?

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I am now, officially hybrid… I think.

That’s right I run on oil AND gas. Sorry, no. What I mean is that the good folks at a small publisher have accepted a short story from me for an anthology. In the process of this they have sent me a publishing contract to sign and there is talk of a small remuneration, depending on sales volume. I think that does officially make me, in the proper sense of the word; with publication pending.

Which brings me neatly onto the other thing. I was looking at Chuck Wendig’s excellent blog today and he was talking about keeping your writing true. Writing who you are rather than what you think people will want. It’s a fantastic post, link to come. The gist is that you can only write for yourself, from your heart because if you write to please anyone else or to follow a trend your writing can lose its conviction. I particularly liked his take on that. Writing a book about something because everyone else has achieved success with it is like being a dog chasing a car.

‘Don’t be the dog, be the car.’

But that made me think because the biggest reason I’m self published is because I write stuff that isn’t really mainstream. I believe it has mainstream appeal but only on an incremental basis with lots of time for people to get used to the idea. And I don’t believe any publisher will take a punt on it until it’s already successful.

That’s not to say I don’t experiment with writing different stuff. My accepted story at Awesome Indies Publishing is one such. And this writing what you, yourself, would like thing, I really have no choice.

Any M T attempt at erotica would be the literary equivalent of this. Thank you http://2makeyoulaugh.blogspot.co.uk

Can I just go off on a tangent here for a minute? Do you ever wonder what writing is like for authors in other genres? I mean, say you write erotica. If you write decent erotica, presumably it turns you on – I mean, that’s what erotica is supposed to do, right? So what do you do about being in a permanent state of arousal, I mean, does it cloud your judgement? Do you end up needing a cold shower to view your work objectively. Or, when you’ve finished a scene do you just have a quick wank, while the cat looks on disapprovingly, and then move onto the next one? It’s not a question that’ll be troubling me. I quite like reading good erotica from time to time, so I did try writing it once. It was one of the funniest things I have ever written but, unfortunately, in absolutely the wrong way.

So for the moment, I’ll carry on writing Bond meets Adams (but without the spies) and see what happens.

Right now, I see what I’m doing as positioning12052012068.

It’s as if I’m leaving my stuff, with artful, care on the bank of the mainstream. To start with there’s just one corner in the water. I imagine the paper waving about in the passing current but each papery wave represents a minuscule tug towards the water. Slowly but surely (I hope) the current pulls it down the bank, tiny, tiny nth of an inch at a time. There’ll be more of it floating in the water now, semi submerged, gently slipping further out into the stream as the current draws it in. Then, it’ll be hanging there for a few seconds, with nothing more than a fraction of the corner stuck to the side until… oops yes it’s floating away and everyone’s a bit surprised because although it’s waterlogged and moving a bit slowly, and shouldn’t really be there, it hasn’t sunk.

Er yeh… That’s the way I see my books inveigling themselves into popular culture. But no-one is going to risk picking up my work and chucking it in until at least some of it has been proved to float on its own. So getting the mini-est publishing deal feels as if well… it’s probably not sliding down the bank yet but maybe a couple more pages have gone in.

Sure, one answer to this question might be to write something that has broader appeal. Perhaps one day I’ll manage it. But if I want to write with conviction I have to write what I write. I know there are many multi-genre authors who would regard that as unprofessional of me, so it is a huge relief to find the particular approach I use endorsed by Mr Wendig. You can find his post, which really puts it very well, here.

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Hybrid. Not just for cars.

This post, on Chuck Wendig’s blog, got me thinking today. (BTW I can thoroughly recommend Chuck Wendig’s blog, unless you’re sensitive to swearing but then, if you’re sensitive to swearing I doubt you’ll be here either).

He was talking about hybrid authors. That is, those of us who self publish their work and also have a trad deal. Apparently, these folk earn more.

You know what. I’m not surprised at that.

Frankly, I would kill for a trad deal, so I could do both. Unfortunately it’s never going to happen. I used to have a reasonably high end business job, and I know how business works. I’m a really crap proposition. It won’t always be that way, but right now it is. A stay at home mum who takes two years to write each book. Even if I managed to pen a query letter covered with just the right amount of fairy dust and unicorn pooh to score that magic read (yes even with an ‘in’ I failed to the point where they sent me a letter back with comments that showed, quite clearly that one of the readers hadn’t even read the book). Even if an agent or a publisher, absolutely loved my stuff, there would be somebody who could churn out a book every 6 months, whose work they loved just as much, who’d get the deal. Geesh! I mean seriously, I wouldn’t touch me with a barge pole, so I don’t expect them to.

If I want trad, I’ve got to have a ‘proven track record’ – ugh I loathe and detest that phrase – and to get one of those, I’ve got to make it the hard way; as a self published author.

However, at least with self publishing, I do have the option to get my books out there and, possibly, succeed. It will be much harder – although not as hard as getting someone to read my query letter – and if I do succeed it will happen in slow motion. But the opportunity IS there.

This is what I love about self publishing.

What I hate is that anyone would bung their first attempt at a novel out there unedited, unrested, without thought. It absolutely amazes me – and gets me into a bit of a frothy mouthed rage, to be honest – because they’ve turned the only route to market for many of us into a slush pile that no-one will touch.

Thanks you bunch of complete and utter bastards.

The K’Barthan Trilogy (actually it’s four books so I’ll have to call it something else, ideas on a post card please) took me 25 years to write.  That’s if I count them from the first attempt. Although I admit I’ve done the donkey work in the last few, between 2008 and now. A lot of people, who would probably enjoy it will never will never find out about it, and others will never touch it because I’ve committed the terrible sin of publishing it myself.

Whatever people say, the prejudice has not gone away, with good reason (cf the complete and utter bastards mentioned above).

That is pretty galling.

Which brings me neatly onto hybrids and why I think they do better.

They’ve sidestepped the prejudice.

Those who ‘don’t read self published books’ will read the self published work of a traditional published author. They’ll pick up that author’s work in the first place. Those book shops who ‘don’t stock self published books’ will stock the self published work of someone with a trad record. It really is all about the brand. It’s the same road; getting to the point where there are enough people out there who trust you to write a good book, who will be confident giving them to their friends to read.

Hybrid is win-win. Hybrid authors have the endorsement of the establishment, they have fans from the normal off line world and they bring them with them. Those fans give the author the momentum to get their books up the listing past the glass ceiling of other authors, amazon book police and jaded, indie author loathing forumites, into the light where the ‘normals’ who are just looking for a book to read, see them. Their trad pub background gives them the golden key onto the review sites and into magazines that ‘won’t accept self published work’ but will from someone with a trad pub background. It’s definitely where I want to be.

In short, the way I see it is this.

If you’re a hybrid, you get to keep the cash and sell without the prejudice.
If you’re trad published you get to sell without the prejudice but there’s less cash to keep.
If you self publish you get to keep the cash but you earn less because until you’re seriously established, everyone you approach will assume that your work is sub standard, poorly edited crap.

It’s a conundrum. Hmm… would knowing what I look like help?

Well, you asked...
See how trustworthy I am.

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